Assorted Links

  • Tale of two workers. “Worker A is in the bottom quintile of income. . . .Worker B is in the upper quintile of income. . . .Worker A is a college drop-out. . . . .Worker B has a Bachelor of Arts, a Masters, and a doctorate.”
  • Citizen scientists. “More than a decade ago, in hopes of advancing research on the rare genetic disease that afflicts her children, Sharon Terry let two different researchers draw their blood for study. But when she asked for the results of the investigations, the scientists gave her a startling response. Information generated from her own children’s DNA, they said, didn’t belong to her.”
  • Ten academic frauds.

Thanks to Tucker Max, Dave Lull and Chuck Currie.

Assorted Links

  • More about the Stapel fraud. The whole report.
  • participatory action research. “A way to increase understanding of how change in one’s actions or practices can mutually benefit a community of practitioners.” More practical than most academic research. Edging toward group self-experimentation.
  • At a Reed College alumni lunch, I sat next to a professor of economics. “What do you think of Jane Jacobs?” I said. “Who’s that?” she said. I am glad to learn that Elinor Ostrom, winner of a recent Nobel Prize in economics, was influenced by Jacobs. Ostrom is a political science professor.
  • recently. I first realized the power of self-experimentation when it showed my dermatologist was wrong.
  • Monopolies of knowledge (Wikipedia entry).

Thanks to Bryan Castañeda, Lemniscate, Dave Lull and Reihan Salam.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Brent Pottenger, Phil Alexander, dearime, and Casey Manion.

Assorted Links

  • Lard chic. ““I might have a cold,” she says. “Eat this, then,” I say, proffering a piece of hot toast with a thin, transparent slice of cured pork fat.”
  • Skeptical Science is a blog devoted to rebutting every argument offered by AGW skeptics like me. Bishop Hill points out that after two comments were critical of a post about Antarctic ice,  the post was rewritten. Rather than point out the rewriting, replies were added to the critical comments saying that the commenters hadn’t read the post (“read and reread the post above”).
  • Nobel Laureates Behaving Badly. “In his Nobel Prize Lecture of December 12, 1946, Hermann J. Muller argued that the dose–response for radiation-induced germ cell mutations was linear and that there was ‘‘no escape from the conclusion that there is no  threshold [below which radiation is harmless]”. However, assessment of correspondence between Muller and Curt Stern 1 month prior to his Nobel Prize Lecture reveals that Muller knew the results and implications of a recently completed study at the University of Rochester under the direction of Stern, which directly contradicted his Nobel Prize Lecture.” This is related to radiation hormesis — the observation that low doses of radiation are beneficial. Airport screening may be making people healthier.
  • Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate”. No fermented food, nothing about omega-3 (beyond the recommendation of fish). “Limit butter”.  “Stay active” but nothing about sleep.
  • Dangers of compact fluorescent lighting.

Thanks to Steve Hansen and Anne Weiss.

Assorted Links

  • Jason Epstein on Jane Jacobs. He edited most of her books.
  • How former Emory psychiatrist Charles “Disgraced” Nemeroff found a home at the University of Miami. A comment on the article put it well: “I am even more concerned as to the scientific truth and validity of the studies, drugs, treatments etc they [= Nemeroff and his supporters] have been involved in.” At the same time her university was hiring Nemeroff, the president of the University, Donna Shalala, sent out a letter boasting how the University of Miami was increasing the “integrity” of their medical school by improving policies related to conflicts of interest! “There is no room for compromise in this area,” wrote Shalala.
  • More about Jane Jacobs

Thanks to Dave Lull, Paul Sas and Alex Chernavsky.

Anil Potti, Ranjit Chandra, and Reducing Scientific Fraud

An account of the genomics scandal at Duke University has appeared in Significance (a journal sponsored by British and American statistical societies). The scandal caused the end of a clinical trial — it had been based on fraudulent data — and the resignation of assistant professor Anil Potti, who had among other things falsified his resume.

It reminded me of the Ranjit Chandra case. Similarities: 1. The published results could not be reconstructed from data. In Chandra’s case, some of the results were statistically impossible. In the Potti case, two statisticians were unable to go from raw data they were given to the published results. 2. Outsiders important. Saul Sternberg and I, who are psychology professors, not nutrition professors, wrote an article that drew attention to what Chandra had done and caused retraction of one of his papers. As far as I could tell, at least a few nutrition professors had believed for many years that Chandra made up data. In Potti’s case, the deception was revealed by two statisticians. Perhaps Chandra and Potti both believed (a) hardly anyone will notice and  (b) if anyone notices, they won’t do anything. 3. Incidental fabrication. In one paper, Chandra said that everyone asked to be in the study agreed to participate. The study involved having blood drawn many times. Potti claimed to be something similar to a Rhodes Scholar. 4. Found innocent. Years before Sternberg and I got involved, Chandra had been accused by his research assistant, a nurse. A Memorial University committee found him innocent of her accusations — at least, her accusations were not upheld. Chandra then sued the nurse. In the Potti case, a Duke University committee looked into the case and found no serious wrongdoing. A clinical trial based on the Potti results, which had been stopped, was resumed.

Factor 2 (outsiders important) is no surprise to readers of this blog, although the new account doesn’t mention it. But Factors 1 (reconstruction impossible) and 3 (incidental fabrication) mean that the fabrication should have been relatively easy to confirm. Yet Factor 4 seems to suggest it was hard to confirm. Factor 4 — in spite of Factors 1 and 3 — implies there is something mysterious and important going on here, more mysterious and interesting than someone lying. But I cannot say what.

The Significance article, which is by Darrel Ince, a professor of computing at the Open University, includes several suggestions for improving the system. I fail to see why they will help and they have significant costs. One of them is to put the original data and software in an independent repository. I think this would make things worse. People would continue to fake research; now. they would now also fake raw data, in addition to the graphs and tables needed for publication. In the past, thinking they wouldn’t be caught, fakers would either (a) not make up the raw data (Chandra) or (b) do so carelessly (Potti). Their overconfidence was key to catching them.

My suggestion along these lines is a requirement that researchers make available upon request the raw data and any original software. They store it themselves, in other words. If they fail to fulfill outside requests for these materials within one month, this will be grounds for immediate retraction of the paper. Without something like this, a store-it-yourself requirement means little. I once requested the raw data for a paper that had appeared in a journal that had a make-data-available policy. The authors refused my request. The editor did nothing. As A. W. Montford makes clear in The Hockey Stick Illusion, we would all be better off if Michael Mann and other authors had simply handed over the raw data behind their “hockey stick” temperature graphs when requested rather than fight a long string of FOIA battles (and mull over what emails to delete).





Assorted Links

Thanks to Dave Lull and Aaron Blaisdell.

Welcome to the Sausage Factory: Multiple Fraud in a Paxil Study

Dr. Jay Amsterdam, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, recently lodged a very interesting complaint against five authors of a 2001 study that compared Paxil to another drug and placebo for treatment of bipolar disorder. The paper reports research paid for by SmithGlaxoKline, the makers of Paxil.  For a subgroup of patients, it says, Paxil worked better than the other drug and better than placebo. Paxil supposedly had fewer side effects than the comparison drug. Amsterdam accuses the five academic authors of plagiarism — meaning they put their names on a paper they didn’t write (like a student who buys a paper). He also says the paper grossly misrepresents the results (because the subgroup analysis was completely ad hoc and the side effects description utterly wrong). So if they did write it . . .

The paper has been cited hundreds of times.  Given the actual results — Paxil had worse side effects than the other drug, and the subgroup result means little — this is no small matter.

As Spy magazine has said, if you cheat your customers, don’t fire anyone. Email included with Amsterdam’s complaint suggests he was upset because he was not an author on the paper. Why? Well, the study was done at many sites and there could be only one author per site — according perhaps to SmithGlaxoKline. At Penn, the work (enrolling subjects) was first given to a junior faculty member named Laszlo Gyulai. However, Gyulai couldn’t enroll enough subjects. Amsterdam was asked to help and paid for doing so. He ended up enrolling more subjects (12) than Gyulai (7). Yet Gyulai was an author and he was not! This greatly bothered him. He considered it  “misappropriation” of his data, said Gyulai had engaged in “the theft and publication of a professor’s data”, and wanted Gyulai censured. Perhaps Gyulai had considered Amsterdam’s non-authorship okay because many professors who contributed subjects were not authors. Whatever the reason, it appears that authorship was determined by the firm that did the ghostwriting, Scientific Therapeutics Information, presumably following orders from SmithGlaxoKline.

I don’t know why Amsterdam waited ten years to complain. Since 2001, however, the ghostwriting problem has become much clearer. In 2001, Amsterdam complained to his department chair, Dr. Dwight Evans, about the situation. In 2010, Amsterdam learned that Evans had benefited from ghostwriting. That’s how common it was.

There’s also this:

POGO [Project on Government Oversight], in a letter to President Obama [related to Amsterdam’s complaint], asked that he remove Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, from her position as chairman of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, until the two cases involving Dr. Evans are fully investigated and resolved.

Chairman! Another indication how common and tolerated ghostwriting is. It is as if an obesity expert, appointed head of the most important obesity committee in the country, charged with recommending how to stop the obesity epidemic . . . is fat.

Perhaps British journalistic phone-hacking has been more common than misrepresentation of results by med school professors but the latter, I’m sure, has done more damage.

Attachments to the Amsterdam complaint. Pharmalot weighs in. Some of the accused defend themselves.

Assorted Links

Chinese University Press Plagiarizes Free Course Materials

A Chinese university press has printed course materials from Yale’s free online classes. Yale has complained, okay, but the incident reminds me of something Stan Ulam attributed to John von Neumann: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you are willing to give someone else the credit.”

Via Andrew Gelman.

Fear of Retaliation: Global Warming and Nutrition

I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating: Science and job don’t mix very well. Career demands can make it hard to tell the truth as you see it. A scientist named Norman Rogers put it like this in relation to global warming:

Mainstream climate scientists are asking for trouble if they become skeptics [about man-made global warming]. They may lose their jobs, their papers may not be published and they may lose their grants. Thatʼs why most skeptics are older or retired or from outside of the mainstream – they are less vulnerable to retaliation.

He could have added that global-warming skeptics will have difficulty recruiting others, such as graduate students, to work with them and will face disdain from their colleagues.

I saw this in relation to the work of Ranjit Chandra. At Berkeley, when I told other professors about my doubts, one of them replied: Talk to X. He’s had doubts about Chandra for 30 years. I spoke to X. This was correct. I didn’t ask X why he’d never said anything publicly about it because the reason was obvious: He feared retaliation.

Dr. Charles Nemeroff “Writes” A Textbook

The stench was too great. I learned from this article that Charles “Disgraced” Nemeroff, once one of the most respected psychiatry professors in America, has moved from Emory University (where he badly deceived university officials) to the University of Miami. The article tells of more Nemeroff dishonesty: He put his name on a textbook he didn’t write. This letter shows how the book was written. The words in the book came from a company named Scientific Therapeutics Information, whose fee was paid by GlaxoSmithKline. Scientific Therapeutics won’t answer questions about what it did. Nemeroff says he and his co-author “conceptualized this book, wrote the original outline and worked on all of the content.” Worked on, huh? Leslie Iversen, an Oxford professor of pharmacology, may have “worked on” the passages he plagiarized (a few words were changed) harder than Nemeroff and his co-author “worked on” their book. The New York Times added a correction to the article worthy of Wittgenstein: “While documents show that SmithKline (now known as GlaxoSmithKline) hired a writing company for the book, they do not indicate that the [writing] company wrote the book.”

In twenty years perhaps Nemeroff will forget that he “wrote” this book, just as the first President Bush forgot about a book he “wrote”.

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky.

Leslie Iversen Plagiarism Update

I contacted Julie Maxton, the Registrar of Oxford University, about the plagiarism of Professor Leslie Iversen that I pointed out in a previous post. (Four passages in Speed, Ecstasy, Ritalin: The Science of Amphetamines, a book by Iversen, were copied without attribution from a website.) Maxton’s first reply was this:

This matter was drawn to the attention of the Oxford University Press in 2009, when the OUP and Professor Iversen agreed with the author of the online text that a reference would be included in any reprint or future editions of the publication.

I thought it strange that Oxford University governance was outsourced to Oxford University Press. Maxton then told me that she had made up her own mind:

Having looked at the texts and discussed the matter with Professor Iversen and with Oxford University Press, both of whom had previously been alerted to your complaint, I was satisfied that the error related to a small section of text of the book in question, that it was an honest error rather than a deliberate attempt to plagiarise the results of research, and that appropriate remedial action had been taken as far as the author of the text was concerned.  I therefore concluded that no further investigation was required, and I regard the matter as closed.

Maxton did not respond to three emails asking why she concluded the plagiarism was “honest error”.

Oxford University’s plagiarism policy says “You have come to university to learn to know and speak your own mind, not merely to parrot the opinions of others. Still less to do so deceitfully, without attribution.” Apparently undergraduate plagiarism is a big problem at Oxford. According to an Oxford professor (not Iversen),

Hard though it may be to believe, students type word-for-word and increasingly copy and paste from the internet, and submit essays containing whole pages of this verbatim material.

Potti: The Final Act

Dr. Amil Potti has resigned from Duke. The clinical trials based on his (faked) research have been stopped. Duke has not exactly covered itself with glory. The two statisticians who first noticed a problem:

In November 2009, we identified and reported the exact problems now cited for retracting the paper…. Given that Duke knew of these problems, why were (Potti’s) clinical trials reopened in January 2010?”


Experts say that Nevins [“who supported his collaborator Potti through four years of controversy over reliability of their findings”] has admitted that the clinical trials that followed the laboratory research — more accurately described as experiments with human beings — harmed patients. Up until this moment, Duke has steadfastly denied this; and in a Halloween statement, Duke affirmed “we do not believe that patients were endangered.”

Recall that the case against Potti attracted notice only when it was discovered he wrongly said he had won a Rhodes Fellowship. Giving new meaning to the devil is in the details. 

Assorted Links

  • Plagiarism by Dr. Shervert Frazier, a Harvard psychiatrist and at one point director of the National Institute of Mental Health
  • David Shenk on talent & genius: why rely on homilies when we have data?
  • Should practice tests have warning labels? Apparently. A University of Central Florida business professor creates a test using a test bank, tells students he wrote the test, and says students who studied questions from the test bank are cheaters!